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Badgers men's basketball team hopes to flip the script on Wolverines
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UW MEN’S BASKETBALL

Badgers men's basketball team hopes to flip the script on Wolverines

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Michigan rout 2-13

UW seniors Aleem Ford and Micah Potter look on after a dunk by Chaundee Brown during Michigan's 77-54 win on Jan. 12.

There was excitement in Dave Flemming’s voice on Jan. 12, and for good reason. The ESPN play-by-play announcer was about to call a game between the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team and host Michigan, both of whom were ranked in the top 10 at the time.

“It should be a really fun game,” Flemming said shortly after the opening tipoff.

Not so much, at least for the Badgers, who trailed by as many as 40 points in the second half of what ended up being a 77-54 defeat at the Crisler Center.

UW senior guard Brad Davison previews a game against Michigan on Sunday at the Kohl Center.

While UW had been wobbly to that point of the season, the belief within the program was it was working out the kinks and that all of its goals — another Big Ten title, a Final Four run — still were within reach.

But a cold, hard reality was delivered that night in Ann Arbor: Michigan is a contender, UW a pretender. Nothing either team has done in the past month would suggest the Wolverines’ lopsided win was in any way a fluke.

Which brings us to the rematch Sunday at the Kohl Center, where the No. 21 Badgers (15-6, 9-5 Big Ten) will host the No. 3 Wolverines (13-1, 8-1) at noon.

A UW optimist could find two reasons the outcome may be different this time around: The Wolverines haven’t played a game for over three weeks because they’ve been on COVID-19 pause and the Badgers have a history of bouncing back against opponents they’ve lost to earlier in the season.

UW senior point guard D'Mitrik Trice previews a game against No. 3 Michigan on Sunday at the Kohl Center.

UW hasn’t been swept by an opponent since the 2017-18 season, when both Nebraska and Michigan State beat the Badgers twice during the regular season. Greg Gard’s team has avoided sweeps eight times over the past three campaigns, a run that includes bounce-back victories in 2020-21 over Maryland and Penn State.

Gard and his players credit an ability to learn from defeats and correct mistakes made the first time around. There were plenty of tough lessons to learn from the loss to Michigan, particularly from a stretch of 15-plus minutes spread over the both halves.

That was when a close game quickly got out of hand. UW trailed 26-23 and had a chance to tie the game with about 6 minutes remaining in the first half, but senior forward Nate Reuvers missed a wide-open 3-pointer and things quickly spiraled out of control on both ends of the floor.

By the time Michigan’s run was over, it had outscored the Badgers 43-6 to build a 40-point cushion.

“We got away from what makes Wisconsin really good,” UW senior point guard D’Mitrik Trice said. “We weren’t guarding the way we know how to guard. I think that’ll be the biggest thing for us going into the game is on the defensive end.”

UW’s offense was actually worse in that game. Michigan deserves a lot of credit for the intensity and discipline it showed on the defensive end.

The Wolverines’ length and athleticism were on display whether they were applying pressure on the ball, jumping passing lanes or protecting the rim. Michigan finished the game with nine blocks and six steals.

UW’s turnover total wasn’t alarming (10), but three of those miscues led to easy buckets on the other end. Two of those runouts came late in the first half, when Michigan suffocated UW to build a comfortable halftime lead.

Gard’s team made two baskets — a three-point play by Aleem Ford and a 3-pointer by Trice — over the course of 27 possessions during Michigan’s run. UW had a stretch of 10 empty possessions to end the first half and another of 12 after Ford opened the second half with his three-point play.

“I think they kind of put us on our heels halfway through the first half when the tide started to turn,” UW senior guard Brad Davison said. “We want to make sure that we’re the aggressor, that we keep throwing the first punches early in the game and dictate the offensive and defensive end from the get-go.”

Following their win over UW, the Wolverines lost 75-57 at Minnesota before bouncing back with convincing wins over Maryland and Purdue. But Michigan’s entire athletic department went on a 14-day pause due a COVID-19 issue and none of its teams could practice during those two weeks.

The Wolverines finally returned to practice a week ago and coach Juwan Howard said Friday it’s been a slow but steady process to get his team back in form.

“We trust, as a staff, that come Sunday we will be ready to play,” Howard told reporters. “I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but from start to finish we’re going to give our best effort.”

What does Davison expect the Wolverines to look like after three weeks off?

“Who knows? I think that’s the million dollar question,” Davison said. “I think the whole country is excited to kind of see what they’ll look like. We hope they’re a little rusty. We hope we can jump on them early.”


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